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HomeFeatureZimbabwe’s Dangerous Trade Of Smuggled Counterfeit Drugs A Cost To Human Life

Zimbabwe’s Dangerous Trade Of Smuggled Counterfeit Drugs A Cost To Human Life

By Michelle Chifamba
When 25-year-old Florence Tapera realized she was 9 weeks pregnant to her runaway boyfriend she decided to terminate the pregnancy because she could not afford bringing a baby to life considering her situation, -Florence was unemployed, broke and burdened with taking care of her three minor children from her previous marriage.

“Last year January (2022) I discovered I was pregnant but could not afford another child considering my unemployment situation. My contract as a cashier at a local supermarket was terminated. The father of the child denied responsibility when I told him about the pregnancy,” says Florence.

Alone, afraid and desperate, she decided to abort the pregnancy. Due to the country’s restrictive abortion law, which criminalizes medically approved termination of pregnancy, Florence says she searched on the internet for medical doctors that provide abortion services.

“I came across a doctor who provides pregnancy termination, we started communicating. Without questions asked I booked my appointment and the doctor said they provide pills that are self-administered,” Florence says.

Florence’s decision to abort her 9-week year old pregnancy was a success when she booked an appointment and the doctor’s assistant contacted her and said they can meet at a food court in the central business district of Harare. Their transaction was completed with her handing over US$150 upon receipt of a small brown envelope containing abortion pills. “The pills in the envelope did not have any instructions, the assistant gave me instructions on how to administer the pills by word of mouth,” Florence says.

As she administered the pills-, Florence induced herself into premature labour. Without a medical professional to her assistance, she says she developed complications before the process was complete.

“After a couple of days of the abortion I started to bleed profusely and I eventually passed out and lost consciousness for three days. When I regained consciousness I realized that I had been admitted in hospital and the doctor told me that I had lost a lot of blood and was lucky to be alive,” Florence said.

The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) records an increase in unplanned pregnancies among women between the ages of 13 and 25 years old. The UNFPA notes that trying to escape from unplanned parenthood young women are resorting to abortion being administered using counterfeit and fake medicines sold on the black-market with harmful effects to their reproductive health.

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UNFPA records that between 2020-2022, approximately 1.7 million pregnancies that took place in Zimbabwe, 21% were adolescents between the ages of 15- 20 years, translating to around 350 000 teenage pregnancies, a deadly scourge among the youth who are likely to resort to backyard abortions in order to escape unplanned parenthood.

Zimbabwe has Statutory Instruments such as the Zimbabwe Dangerous Drug Act (Chapter 15:02) and the Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act that control and criminalizes the importation, exportation, production, possession, sale and use of dangerous drugs.

Dangerous drugs as defined in the Acts are drugs, which contain traces of morphine or any alkaloid opium or likely to be improperly used, of ill effects substantially of the same character or nature to those produced by cocaine or morphine. It is capable of being converted into a substance, which is likely if improperly used, its effects may cause human harm.

Apart from having these SI-units that criminalizes the importation and possession of dangerous drugs. Zimbabwe has gradually become a transit point for the smuggling, trafficking and distribution of various dangerous drugs and medicines including abortion pills, family planning pills, skin lighting creams, crystal meth, histalix, and a variety of other prescription drugs and medicines are in circulation and sold on the black-market.

Pharmacist Maxwell Faranisi says the smuggling of fake medicines and drugs has been on the rise since the beginning of Covid-19, where borders where closed but people would smuggle the drugs using porous border transit points.

“There are counterfeit and fake medicines and drugs are in circulation and these products have health effects. Fake drugs kills more than a million people worldwide each year because they could have reached their expiry date and are supposed to be out of the market yet they are smuggled into the country and sold on the black-market, were they are often cheaper than licenced shops or pharmacies,” Faranisi said.

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Because of transnational organized crimes, medicines and drugs being sold on the black-market are being smuggled into the country through official links at the country’s borders.

The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC, 2021 report) states that drug trafficking continues to be the most lucrative form of business with an estimated annual value of US$320 billion, globally.

The GI-TOC, 2021 report states that the effects of transnational organized crimes, which involves the smuggling of dangerous drugs across borders is a global threat its effects are felt locally.

“When organized crime takes root it can destabilize countries and entire regions leading to an increase in corruption, extortion as well as violence within local communities,” reads the GI-TOC report.

Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe registers medicines and licences persons and premises that sell medicines.

Davison Kaviyo, MCAZ spokesperson says health institutions in Zimbabwe are licenced to handle medicines. Sources of medicines are licenced be it manufacturer or wholesaler and if anyone is found to be selling medicines or drugs that are not registered they are breaking the law and is liable to prosecution.

“For medicines to be registered in Zimbabwe it would have gone through rigorous registration process. Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe Licencing and Enforcement Division conducts routine inspections of pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities to verify compliance to the World Health Organization current Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines. This is to ensure that manufacturers supplying medicines to the Zimbabwe market continue to provide good quality products.”

“The Authority also from time to time conducts post marketing surveillance inspections to enforce adherence to standards for retailers, distributors and manufacturers, thus ensuring that products in the Zimbabwe supply chain continue to meet the minimum requirements for safety, quality and efficacy,” Kaviyo said.

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